×

Returning to latenight Monday without the aid of writers, “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart could barely hide his frustration.

“The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” producer Hello Doggie spent much of the past week and into the weekend in talks with the Writers Guild about issuing an interim agreement in the vein of David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants deal.

Ultimately, talks fell short — and even though Hello Doggie was never specifically denied a deal, an agreement wasn’t reached before Monday’s return. And no further talks are scheduled.

On Monday’s “Daily Show,” Stewart asked Cornell professor of labor relations Ron Seeber whether he thought granting an agreement to Letterman was “smart strategy.”

“Are they being arbitrary with it, perhaps denying some shows who would willingly do it?” Stewart asked, to cheers and laughs from the audience. “Wouldn’t you want to get as many shows? Let’s say you’re not as big — let’s say you’re on basic cable. But you’ll do it and you’ve gotten your company to say ‘OK,’ even though they clearly think you’re insane. Why would you turn something like that down?”

Stewart was referring to Hello Doggie’s willingness to sign a deal identical to the WGA’s pact with Worldwide Pants. According to insiders, Comedy Central and Viacom had even signed off on the deal.

But that’s the rub: Stewart doesn’t own “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” while Letterman does own “Late Show” and “Late Late Show.” A WGA rep said the guild will not grant individual show waivers, but would be willing to sign a pact with program owners like Comedy Central.

Insiders said that’s a non-starter at Comedy Central, which runs non-WGA animated skeins, and won’t adopt the Worldwide Pants template — which includes coverage over reality and animation. (That’s why a similar pact with Comedy Central parent MTV Networks, which runs countless reality skeins, also probably won’t happen.)

WGA said it doesn’t comment on specific talks.

One insider said the WGA probably also isn’t interested in signing individual program deals with “Daily Show” and “Colbert Report” because it would then, in fairness, have to seal pacts with “The Tonight Show,” “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live” too — or run the risk of angering the hosts of those shows.

But Stewart is said to be frustrated, because the WGA was willing to sign an individual show deal (rather than a blanket Comedy Central pact) to unionize “The Daily Show” writers in 2006.

“It was good enough for them then, but not now,” one insider groused.

Stewart and Colbert both spent much of Monday discussing the strike; Stewart managed to fire barbs at both sides in the battle. He also said he found it strange that the latenight shows spent less time off the air after the Sept. 11 attack.

“The last time these talkshows were off the air for any length of time was after Sept. 11,” he said. “And that time, most shows were off the air for a week. So if my math is correct, the writers strike is now nine times worse than Sept. 11.”

That one drew some nervous chuckles from the audience.

Both the “Daily Show” and “Colbert Report” have recruited politicos and authors as guests in recent years; that formula will serve the shows well in the coming weeks. (As struck shows, they aren’t likely to recruit many celebs anyway.)

On Tuesday, “The Daily Show” was expected to feature Republican pundit David Frum as a guest, while “Colbert” was set to include author Michael Pollan, author of “In Defense of Food, an Eater’s Manifesto.”